The cornea that surrounds your pupil and iris is, under normal circumstances, spherical. As light enters your eye, part of the job of your cornea is to project that light, directing it at the retina, in the rear part of your eye. But what does it mean if the cornea is not perfectly spherical? The eye can't direct the light properly on one focal point on your retina, and will cause your vision to be blurred. Such a situation is known as astigmatism.
Many individuals have astigmatism and the condition usually accompanies other vision errors that require vision correction. Astigmatism frequently occurs during childhood and can cause eye strain, painful headaches and squinting when left untreated. With kids, it may lead to obstacles in school, especially with highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Those who work with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for long lengths might experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Astigmatism can be detected by an eye exam with an eye care professional and then properly diagnosed with either an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam, which checks the amount of astigmatism. The condition is easily tended to with contact lenses or glasses, for those who prefer a non-invasive procedure, or refractive surgery, which alters the flow of light onto the retina to readjust the focal point.
Toric lenses are commonly prescribed for astigmatism because they allow the light to curve more in one direction than another. Standard contacts generally shift each time you blink. With astigmatism, the smallest movement can cause blurred sight. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same place on your eye to avoid this problem. You can find toric lenses in soft or hard lenses.
Astigmatism can also be fixed by laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure that involves the use of hard contacts to gradually change the shape of the cornea during the night. You should discuss your options and alternatives with your eye care professional to decide what the best choice might be.
A person's astigmatism changes over time, so make sure that you're periodically visiting your optometrist for a comprehensive exam. Additionally, make sure that you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. A considerable amount of your child's learning (and playing) is predominantly visual. You can help your child get the most of his or her schooling with a comprehensive eye exam, which will help detect any visual abnormalities before they impact education, play, or other activities.